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This Day In History: The Undefeated USS Constitution/Old Ironsides Launches In Boston Harbor

October 21, 2016

This day in history, October 21, 1797, the U.S. Navy Frigate USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides, is launched in Boston Harbor.

The USS Constitution is a 44-gun U.S. Navy frigate built to fight Barbary pirates off the coast of Tripoli and in 1805 a peace treaty with Tripoli was signed on the USS Constitution‘s deck.

Although her construction is almost halted by a 1796 peace treaty with Algiers, the USS Constitution is launched-christened by visiting Capt. James Sever using a bottle of Madeira. It is actually the third attempt to launch her; the first was a month earlier, when the ship sticks after moving only 27 feet. Two days later she moves another 31 feet before sticking once again. For the third attempt, workers make the launching ways steeper, which finally enables a successful event.

During the War of 1812, the the ship won its nickname “Old Ironsides” after defeating the British warship Guerriére in a furious engagement off the coast of Nova Scotia. Witnesses claimed that the British shots bounced off the Constitution‘s sides, as if the ship were made of iron rather than wood.

The success of the Constitution against the supposedly invincible Royal Navy provided a tremendous morale boost for the young American republic.

In 1855, the Constitution retired from active military service, but the famous vessel continued to serve the United States, first as a training ship and later as a touring national landmark. Since 1934, it has been based at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.

It was never defeated in 42 battles. 216 crew members set sail again in 1997 for its 200th birthday.